Willingen, Germany (2nd of 2). What Followed the 1952 Meeting of the International Missionary Council, and How the Term Missio Dei Endured a Challenge

We wrote about the historic 1952 meeting of the International Missionary Council here. The delegates voted to accept Dr. Karl Hartenstein’s proposal, that the phrase Missio Dei was a needed corrective to the popular but problematic phrase, missio ecclesiae. However, a few years later, in 1961, the International Missionary Council dissolved itself and became a committee of the World Council of Churches. A number of Christian leaders warned that this would result in an end of mission to the non-Christian world. Donald McGavran wrote an article, prior to the 1968 WCC meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, “Will Uppsala Betray the Two Billion?” Christianity Today magazine answered, “Yes, Uppsala Betrayed the Two Billion. Now What?” Fortunately, Billy Graham stepped forward to organize the International Conference on World Evangelization at Lausanne in 1974. The Lausanne Movement has provided a forum for Christian mission to non-Christians that was no longer possible after the International Missionary Council went out of existence in 1961. At Willingen, Germany in 1952 Hartenstein wrote, “The mission is not a matter of human activity or organization; ‘its source is the Triune God Himself.’ The sending of the Son for the reconciliation of the universe through the power of the Spirit is the cause and purpose of mission.” Missio Dei was a corrective to an opinion that had formed at an earlier meeting of the IMC, in Tambaram, India in 1938. At Tambaram the concept of the mission of the church, or missio ecclesiae, carried the day. Missio ecclesiaemeant that the church authorized itself to set its own mission course. That opinion, Hartenstein said, remade mission “in the image of man.” The IMC meeting in Willingen successfully re-established the Trinitarian basis of mission, as revealed in the Bible. However, when the IMC went out of existence in 1961, the World Council of Churches recast mission in an image quite different from God’s mission in the Bible.

The World Council of Churches (in Germany) expressing mission as church-to-church relationships.

The missio ecclesiaethat perturbed Karl Hartenstein and Karl Barth in Willingen in1952 is expressed in the ecumenical movement of the World Council of Churches. The good news is that Missio Dei is an enduring expression of what is really there in the Bible. As Paul wrote, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them, and giving us the ministry of reconciliation. We are, therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. I urge, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).